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A Diary of a Custom Bike Build


Eric and his new Custom Fat Back Fat Bike

Eric and his new Custom Fat Back Fat Bike

We’ve hooked another cyclist into our world of Fat Bikes – this time it is Eric and we are building him a frame-up custom Fat Back.   Seeing that his bright orange Fat Back frame has been sitting on the back counter of the shop for a week while we wait for the parts to come in, I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about custom, frame-up builds.   Yup, we do that – in fact Brandon, our shop manager, has a process for helping customers build up a custom bike that takes all sorts of factors into consideration when determining what parts to use.   So let me take you through the process with Eric (happy new bike owner), Brandon (whiz at crafting the part selection for custom bikes) and Michael (ace mechanic who will complete the build).

Eric & his Fat Back Frame

Eric & his Fat Back Frame

It Starts with the Customer:

Eric just caught the fat bike buzz and is planning on racing the Togwotee Winter Classic on March 9th.  He currently doesn’t own a fat bike, so this bike will be his first!   Eric is a mountain biker and road cyclist, but fat biking is new to him.  He’s been hanging around the shop toying with the idea of a fat bike for a while now, but he recently pulled the trigger.  After considering both the Fat Back and a Beargrease, Eric decided on the Fat Back.  Once he decided on the frame, Eric and Brandon talked about the other things that were important: in Eric’s case, weight, floatation, gearing and color.   Eric wanted both to keep the bike’s weight down and maximize floatation while making sure that the gearing worked.   And he really liked the orange color.   These goals gave Brandon a clear direction in the parts selection, which we’ll talk about shortly.

Custom builds can take a variety of forms.  Eric’s goals with the bike were perhaps not tied to a particular parts selection, but you could have a gruppo or specific parts in mind when contemplating a build.  For example, Dave Byers, one of our regular customers, has built more than one custom bikes with us.  Dave is certainly on the super-geek end of the bike geek spectrum which means he comes into a build with some definite opinions and preferences for the parts packages on his builds.   But just because he knows what he wants and buys the frame himself, Dave still consults with Brandon to choose the parts.   Dave says he likes the fact that Brandon always takes the time to ensure that he gets exactly what he wants and that his chosen components and frame will work together.

But don’t be intimidated by custom bikes if you are not on the bike super geek spectrum – if you know what kind of riding you want to do, then we can help you with a custom bike.   You just need to talk to Brandon.

In comes Brandon:

Brandon basically serves as a consultant and expert to each and every custom build we do in the shop.   He helps customers balance weight, cost, functionality, riding style and preferences when picking the parts package for your custom build.   It all starts with Brandon’s custom builder spreadsheet and his intimate knowledge of all things bike parts.    The spreadsheet lists every component that makes up a bicycle – that includes the number of spokes, to hubs, to chains, chain rings to headset, stem, handlebars and grips and everything else that it takes to build a bike.

Brandon is going to start by asking questions including:

  • your riding style and goals,
  • what components you may want and know about,
  • favorite colors,
  • how much of a weight weenie you are and
  • your budget.

Brandon will use the spreadsheet to build the parts list with perhaps two or three alternative builds that will fit the customer’s budget or weight requirements.   After additional consultation with the customer will choose the build or modify the build and then parts and frame will be ordered.   This process usually takes as little as a day or as long as it takes for the customer to make a decision.   Once the decision is made on the parts and frame package, the completed bike will usually be ready within 2 weeks depending on availability of the frame.

Custom Fat Back Build with parts from Surly, Race Face, Shimano and Avid

Eric's Parts Package for his Fat Back

Another consideration is making sure that the frame and components work well together.   So whether you have a ton of experience and are a super geek (thinking of you Dave Byers) or someone who needs to rely on Brandon’s expertise for component selection, Brandon will make sure that everything works together.   In fact, even if you are not into geeking out over every component choice but you know what to run a SRAM drivetrain, Brandon will not only fill in the blanks, but also make sure that once built, the bike will run sweet.

So with Eric’s Fat Back build, Brandon knew that floatation, gearing and weight were important to Eric.  So he choose the Surly Clown Shoe (a 100 mm wide rim) with a Surly Bud on the front (4.8″ wide), a Surly Nate (3.8″ wide) on the rear.   This rim and tire combination will give Eric incredible float.  For fatbikes there can be drivetrain clearance issues when you run such large rims.  So the drivetrain selection is important.  For Eric’s bike, Brandon choose Shimano XT shifters and rear derailleur, Race Face cranks, chain rings and bottom bracket, and SRAM X7 front derailleur (Fatbacks require SRAM front derailleurs).   This gave Eric a 2 X 9 drivetrain with 22-34 chain rings and 11-36 cassette (they did drop one gear off the cassette for chain clearance).   Brandon also predicted that Eric’s fully completed the bike would tip the scales at around 32-33 pounds.

And then Michael takes over:

Once the parts and the frame arrives, Michael gets to work.   For Eric’s bike, Michael starts with building the wheels.  Not every custom bike will need custom wheels, but for a fat bike like Eric’s, we build the wheels up from hubs, rims & spokes.   For a road or mountain bike, we commonly order a complete wheelset.

Michael Laces a set of Fatback hubs to Surly Clown Shoe

Michael Laces a set of Fatback hubs to Surly Clown Shoes

Once Michael gets going, it doesn’t take very long to get the bike completed.   And the results are spectacular!  Fully built with pedals the bike weighs in at 32.5 pounds.

Eric's completed Fat Back!

Eric's completed Fat Back!

Fat Back with Surly Clown Shoes and Surly Nate Tire

Beautiful & Fat!

Fat Back Custom fat bike

Fat Back has a spiffy new Headbadge!

Race Face Cranks & Rings, Shimano Rear Derailleur & SRAM front Derailleur

Eric's Drivetrain - no chain clearance issues here!



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